A Very merry blue christmas

an ever after short story

A delightful short from

the Ever After romance world...


Gwyn Jacobs has settled comfortably into married life with Hollywood megastar Gareth Connor. Her three kids are thrilled to have him as their new dad, his estranged daughter has become part of the family, and all is well with Gwyn's world. Or at least, it should be.

Except Gwyn has news she needs to share with Gareth, and she's not at all sure how he'll take it. And with a houseful of guests arriving for the holidays, now is not the best time.

But secrets like this one are hard to keep...especially when they have the potential to turn her whole world upside down.

and the perfect mini-escape.

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READ AN EXCERPT


Oh.

Dear.

Lord.

Seated on the edge of the bathtub, Gwynneth Connor stared at the blue plus-sign. It stared back, unblinking, unchanging, and completely indifferent to the knot of panic in the pit of her stomach. Gwyn lowered the little plastic stick to her lap. From the main floor below her came the sounds of everyday family life, ramped up to a new level of chaos by the holidays. Nicholas and Maggie, singing Deck the Halls at the top of their lungs in the kitchen; Katie imploring them to sing something—anything—else for a change; the deep rumble of Gareth’s voice, his words unintelligible to Gwyn, but their effect immediate on her children.

Their children.

Their first Christmas together as a family. She, Gareth, Katie, Maggie, Nicholas...

And now this.

A series of distinctive guitar chords floated up through the floorboards, followed by the deep, velvet voice of Elvis Presley. “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you,” he crooned.

Gwyn’s gaze dropped to the blue plus-sign again, and she slapped a hand over her mouth to contain a burble of semi-hysteria. Of all the songs on all the CDs Gareth could have chosen...

“I’ll be so blue just thinking about you,” Elvis sang.

Gwyn closed her eyes. What would she tell Gareth? How would she tell him? They’d never even discussed the possibility—with four kids between them, it had never even occurred to her to do so. She’d had her family, and he’d had his, and now...

Oh, dear lord.

The knot of panic in her belly unfurled and spread, reaching out to wrap around her lungs, her heart, her throat. What would he say? How would he react? She was almost thirty-six years old, for heaven’s sake. The thought of starting all over again now, with diapers and teething and sleepless nights, and—

And Gareth’s baby...

Panic turned warm and soft at the sudden change in her mind’s direction.

“I’ll have a blue, blue, blue Christmas,” crooned Elvis.

Gareth’s baby. She was going to have Gareth’s baby.

And Gareth, a single man up until a few short months ago, would be dealing with the same diapers and teething and—

Her panic made another abrupt about-face. What if he couldn’t handle it? What if, like her kids’ father, he decided parenthood was more than he was cut out for? What if he went out to get milk one night and never—

Stop it, she told herself fiercely. Gareth wasn’t Jack. He wasn’t anything like Jack. He was warm, and caring, and wonderful in every way, and—

“Mommy!” Nicholas bellowed up the stairs. “They’re here! Uncle Sean and Auntie Grace are here! And Uncle Rob and Auntie Sandy and Amy and Josh and Lilliane and—“

The door in the front hall opened, and a babble of voices drowned out the remaining names on her son’s list, Sage and Annabelle, the youngest of Grace’s four charges. Grace, who faced her first Christmas with four children after her sister’s death, and who had a great deal more to worry about than a blue plus-sign on a stick.

Gwyn inhaled deeply. Once, twice, a third time. She rose to her feet and opened the top drawer in the bathroom cabinet. With a last glance at the still-positive result, she set the pregnancy test inside and slid the drawer closed again. Then, summoning her best and brightest smile, she went to join their guests.

***

Chaos enveloped her as she stepped into the hallway. Gareth’s father, Steffan, had positioned himself in front of the closet and taken on the task of hanging coats; Nicholas and Maggie had been put in charge of undressing Annabelle, who looked like a rag doll being pulled between them; and Gareth had all but disappeared behind a mountain of gifts that had been piled into his arms.

Sandy, Gwyn’s best friend, plowed her way between bodies to envelope Gwyn in a hug. “You know you’re insane, right?” she all but shouted over the din into Gwyn’s ear. “I’m not sure your sitting room will even hold everyone. You really didn’t have to invite me and Rob—“

Gwyn planted a kiss on her friend’s cheek. “Of course we did. You’re family. It’s Christmas. You belong here.”

“Well, thank you.” Sandy gave her another squeeze and then released her. “But I still think you’re nuts.”

A soft hand settled on Gwyn’s arm, and she looked around into the bright blue eyes of her mother-in-law.

“I’ll get the littles moved into the sitting room and out from underfoot, shall I?” Alwen asked in her soft, Welsh lilt. “And set out the cookies?”

 Gwyn eyed the milling children who seemed to be everywhere. Annabelle’s older brother, Josh, had rescued the tyke from Nicholas and Maggie’s overeager clutches, and the twins had instead begun bouncing up and down with Lilliane and Katie, while Sage hid behind the safety of Sean’s legs. Gwyn shook her head. Add sugar to the already hyper mix? Why not? At least it would get everyone moving in the direction of the Christmas tree and the grand gift-opening event.

“That would be great, Alwen,” she said. “Thank you.”

Alwen’s offer of cookies and milk was as good as magic, clearing the hallway of small bodies in thirty seconds flat. Utter silence reigned between the adults for a moment, and then Sean drawled, “And I thought you and your crew knew how to make an entrance.”

Gareth snorted. “Let’s just be thankful there’s only three of our crew, or you wouldn’t be saying that. Can you imagine two Nicholases arriving at your house?”

Everyone laughed. Everyone, that is, but Gwyn, who tried to blink away the vision of a blue plus-sign.

Sandy gave her a quizzical look. “You okay?”

“Of course,” Gwyn said, summoning a smile. “How could I not be?”

Ignoring Sandy’s narrowed gaze, she stepped past her friend to greet the rest of their guests: Sandy’s husband Rob, Amy, Sean, Grace. She gave the latter the longest hug, stepping back to look into the dark brown eyes that still carried the shadows of all that had happened, all that was still to come.

“How are you holding up, sweetie?” she asked. It was Grace’s first Christmas without her sister; her first Christmas as surrogate mom to the four children Juliane had left in her care. Gwyn couldn’t even begin to imagine the jumble of emotions she had to be going through.

Grace’s smile was fleeting, and she blinked too fast, but her voice was steady in response. “Managing,” she replied. “One day at a time.”

Gwyn nodded. She sensed a world of pain behind the words, but she wouldn’t pry. Not now. Coffee later this week, she decided. Just the two of them.

“And the kids?” she asked.

“Better than we’d expected,” Sean answered, sliding a protective arm around his fiancée’s waist as Rob, Sandy, Amy, and Steffan followed Gareth down the hall to the hive of hyperactivity over which Alwen presided. “Josh has been a little quiet, but the girls have gotten into the spirit of things. It’s been okay.”

“Mostly thanks to you.” Grace leaned her head against his shoulder. “I think the turkey would still be frozen if we’d left dinner up to me.”

 “So that’s why you’re keeping me around? My cooking skills? Well, at least I know where I stand, I suppose.”  Sean chuckled and dropped a kiss on her nose, then looked to Gwyn. “Speaking of the turkey, it’s rapidly chilling in the trunk of the car. Can I put it into the oven to keep warm? I’m assuming we’re doing gifts before dinner?”

 “I think that might be a good idea. Unless you want to be the one to tell them they have to wait.” Gwyn inclined her head toward the hubbub down the hall.

“Not on your life.” Sean gave Grace’s waist a final squeeze and withdrew his arm. “I’ll be back in a sec.”